Published in The Wildlife Society Professional, Summer 2009 edition
Aiming for Future Growth – By Eric C. Nuse
The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports: Research-Based Recruitment and Retention Strategies, Responsive Management and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 2008. 261 pages
At last under one cover are the results of most of the recent scientific studies and surveys looking at recruitment and retention of hunters and shooters in the U.S. Studies included range from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Census National Survey of Fish, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation to Responsive Management’s Attitudes Toward and Participation in Youth Hunting Weekends in Vermont. It also includes the results of two series of nationwide focus groups and two major scientific telephone surveys.
Lead researcher Mark Damian Duda states, “The purpose of this project is to better understand the factors related to hunting and sport shooting participation, identify strategies to better meet the needs of current and potential participants, and more effectively communicate to the public about these activities.” The book is organized into 9 chapters covering the following broad topics: participation, demographic trends, initiation and recruitment, motivations and satisfactions, target markets, recruitment programs, public opinion, and implications and action items.
As president of Orion-The Hunter’s Institute and actively involved in hunter recruitment and retention efforts, I found this book’s primary strength comes from putting the results from hundreds of studies and surveys under one cover. Beyond this convenience, the synthesizing of the results by topic area followed by comprehensive list of action items makes this book an essential desk reference for everyone concerned about the future of hunting and shooting sports. The study falls short in identifying top priority actions but it anticipates this failing by suggesting the formation of a national “umbrella” group to “coordinate programs, minimize duplication and ensure that gaps are not left unaddressed.” The authors also advocate for national and state-specific strategic plans.
As a participant in numerous Governors’ Symposiums on the Future of Hunting and similar events, I have become increasingly frustrated with the lack of connectivity between recruitment programs. It seemed to me that government and NGOs all had their pet projects but they were more like mazes with lots of dead ends than a path to help people become life-long hunters. This report’s suggestion for an umbrella group would be a great step forward to leverage the investments in current programs and straighten out the current maze. I think there is a good reason that it historically “Takes a hunter to make a hunter.” Hunters are the only ones who can figure out the system and provide the support needed to guide a new recruit through! In my experience in hunter education at the state and national level, improvements have been made in building awareness and interest in hunting, but coordinated follow though is lacking.
The Final action item 196 is worth noting. “Put these actions into place as soon as possible. While proper planning is essential, plans cannot be left in the planning stage without follow-through. Action now will ensure the continuation of the hunting and shooting heritage in the U.S. in the future.”
I decided to test the value of the book with a real issue being debated in my home state of Vermont. A bill has been introduced to allow interested people to try hunting before committing to hunter education or buying a hunting license. I wanted to see what the research says.
Using a word search in the PDF version that is available online at the Responsive Management web site, I found that “mentor” was mentioned 36 times. To make the material easier to work with I cut and pasted all relevant sections together, cut out the duplications and created my own 8-page mini-report. It was a simple matter to then glean the data I needed to put my report together. Here is a short summary of what I found:
• Mentoring plays an important role in hunting initiation (and in this context, mentoring primarily refers to informal mentoring—such as a parent taking a child).
• Mandatory hunter education itself does not appear to be a constraint to hunting participation. However, some researchers have suggested that the timing of the education—requiring a person to go through the entire education course before being able to even try hunting with a mentor—may have some constraining effect.
• Hunters following that route of initiation—starting young and being mentored by others, particularly family—typically show greater subsequent avidity for hunting.
• Follow-up programs after initiation, particularly within a short time after a hunter’s first experience, are critical.
• Encouraging continued participation with family members, and developing programs and services with families in. This ensures the hunter or shooter has the social support necessary to sustain interest and participation.
In a short time I found everything I needed to prepare my testimony for the legislative committee. Unfortunately the paper version of this book does not have an index allowing for this type of word search, but the PDF version worked great.
The book also points out some myths; such as that single mom households are contributing disproportionately to the decline in hunter numbers. The data presented is clear that this is not the case and programs that focus on this issue are not the best use of time and money. The book also points out the importance of family, but does not go into mentoring programs like the New York regional pilot that was not successful in part because they focused on the individual youth and not the family.
The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports was produced under a Multi-State Conservation Grant CT-M-6-0. Primary authors are: Mark Damian Duda, Martin Jones, Andrea Criscione, (all of Responsive Management), and Frank Briganti of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. They state, “This report presents the findings of one of the largest and most comprehensive studies ever conducted on the factors related to hunting and sport shooting participation.” It was a 3-year project involving wildlife professionals, outdoor recreation professionals, academics, sportsmen and conservation organization personnel.
This study will be of particular value to outreach directors, hunter education coordinators, NGOs involved in recruitment and retention projects, legislators and regulatory boards.
Overall this is a great start, and as the researchers repeatedly state there is a lot more work to be done. The National Shooting Sports Foundation hosted the 2008 Shooting Sports Summit where the results of this book were presented, and a group called Task Force 20/20 was formed (http://www.taskforce2020.org/). This group has identified five key areas of concentration from the 196 action items listed in the book. For each key area they list best practices to accomplish the objective. A follow up Summit is scheduled for 2009 with the goal of increasing participation in hunting and the shooting sports by 20 percent in 5 years. Also the Wildlife Management Institute has put together a comprehensive database of over 400 recruitment and retention programs being run by government entities and NGO’s. It is available at http://huntingheritage.org
The Future of Hunting and The Shooting Sports should be within arm’s reach of all professionals concerned with the future of hunting and the shooting sports.